Children’s Drawings about Environmental Phenomena: The Use of Visual Codes

By Vasilia Christidou, Vassilia Hatzinikita and Anastasia Dimitriou.

Published by The International Journal of Science in Society

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Visual communication, i.e. the use of images in order to produce messages, constitutes an autonomous system of meaning – making, parallel to language, with its specialized codes and ‘grammar’. Visual representations play a central role in texts related to science, either these texts address scientists, or the non-specialized, general public. Therefore, the ability of students to understand and explain scientific phenomena depends – at least partly – on their ability to use the codes of scientific imagery.
The present study aims at exploring the types of visual codes that the children use and at estimating their degree of compatibility with the codes normally used for the illustration of scientific texts. The study presents an analysis of 50 drawings produced by Greek elementary school pupils (11-12 years old). The drawings concerned global environmental issues (namely ozone depletion and global warming), which involve complex scientific processes. The pupils’ drawings are analyzed along three dimensions: a) the type of representation, that is the degree to which the drawings follow the conventions of the scientific visual language; b) the function of the representation, i.e. if it mainly narrates an event, analyses an entity to its constituent parts, or it classifies different entities according to specific criteria; c) the degree of abstraction and elaboration (formality) of the visual code.
The results of the analysis indicate that at the time of leaving primary school children are already familiar with the basic rules of ‘visual grammar’. They successfully use codes and conventions of the visual language of science in order to describe and explain graphically complex mechanisms, even when their representations are inadequate in comparison with the scientific explanation of the depicted phenomena.

Keywords: Formality of Visual Representations, Function of Visual Representations, Global Warming, Ozone Depletion, Pupils’ Drawings, Type of Visual Representations, Visual Codes, Visual Communication

The International Journal of Science in Society, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp.107-118. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 2.222MB).

Dr. Vasilia Christidou

Associate Professor, Department of Preschool Education, University of Thessaly, Volos, Volos, Greece

Dr. Vasilia Christidou is an Associate Professor in Science Education at the Department of Preschool Education, University of Thessaly, Greece. Her current research interests concern teaching and learning in science, children’s ideas in science, the promotion of Public Understanding of Science, and the process of recontextualization of scientific texts addressed to non-experts. She has coordinated and participated in a number of research projects related to teaching and learning science and has published numerous research articles and studies in journals, books, and conference proceedings.

Prof. Vassilia Hatzinikita

Academic Coordinator of the Master in Education, School of Humanities, Hellenic Open University, Patra, Patra, Greece

Associate Professor Vassilia Hatzinikita is currently an academic coordinator of the Master in Education in the Hellenic Open University and a coordinator of Educational Research in Action module. Her research interests concern science teaching and learning as well as the analysis and development of educational materials. She has published a considerable number of research papers in journals, books and conference proceedings and has developed educational material for the Science Education module of the Hellenic Open University.

Dr. Anastasia Dimitriou

Assistant Professor, Department of Education Sciences in Preschool Age, Democritus University of Thrace, Alexandroupolis, Alexandroupolis, Greece

Dr. Anastasia Dimitriou is an Assistant Professor of Science and Environmental Education and director of the Labortory of Research and Communication for the Environment and Environmental Education at the Department of Education Sciences in Pre-School Age, Democritus University of Thrace, Greece. She has coordinated and participated in research projects relevant to teachers’ and students’ conceptions and development of teaching material regarding science, the environment and environmental education and has published research articles and studies in journals, books, and conference proceedings.